I was on my way back from watching an IPL game – RCB beat table toppers RR in a tense match at the Chinnaswamy. My phone battery had drained out, and so had my voice and the bus arrived later than usual, so I was not really following on what was happening in the second game of the double header Sunday – CSK v KKR. The college kid sitting next to match was watching it on his phone (with the commentary set on loudspeaker) but I was mostly lost in reading a book I had just picked up. That is, until, Ravindra Jadeja got out, and in walked a certain MS Dhoni, with two balls left to play.
I looked up from the book and asked him how many people were live on the Jio Cinema stream. He said 1.8 Cr. and as we were speaking, it spiked to 2Cr as MS marked his guard. Twice this season already, Dhoni’s presence at the crease has pushed the viewership on the streaming platform to record highs, and Chinnaswamy held its collective breath – fans in red and yellow alike – when he came out to bat with just a single delivery left to face. Every phone camera was out in the stands, making that innings probably the most documented 1*(1) ever in cricket. It was easier to get tickets to Taylor Swift’s Eras tour than the CSK v RCB game. Dhoni has always had a huge fan following, I don’t need to preach to the choir on that front. But the frenzy his mere sighting in these micro dose quantities has cooked up clearly defies any form of conventional cricketing logic. It does however speak to what I personally consider the most important concept to try and understand economics – scarcity.
Anyone who’s ever read up anything about econ, at whatever level of curiosity, has come across the point that economic decision making is driven by scarcity – of money, of time, of resources, of information. Price movements, in any market, should ideally be good indicators of scarcity (price goes up) or abundance (price goes down), and that is why when there are imperfect markets or markets fail, problems and crises arise, requiring intervention to solve those. Industries like art and fashion create it artificially to keep themselves going.
But back to the MSD phenomenon.
This season the craze feels different, primarily because even though the man himself is characteristically laconic about it, everyone is convinced it’s his last playing season in the IPL – the only form of cricket Dhoni is still active in. In a bit of friendly banter a good friend, pun grandmaster, host of the friendliest cricket podcast and marketing maven (not the kind Malcolm Gladwell conveniently made up for his book The Tipping Point, but the real kind) Tony Sebastian needled me saying “Sir please get off this hype train” when I posted some fawning Dhoni stuff.
Incidentally his statement made me think of why I was posting Dhoni’s stat this IPL after every innings. And then it struck me today when I did the thing that I am second most afraid of on a bus (the first is handing a large note to the conductor and getting berated by them) – talk to a stranger sitting next to me. It’s because all of us know, the number of times we will get to see him bat is now limited, the illusion of abundance that we had watching him in his early days is gone. And with limited supply comes the spectre of scarcity, the thing that forces us to make tradeoffs, to consider decisions more carefully, to prioritise even when we’d not necessarily want to. I have written about the scarcity of Federer v Nadal before, and this feeling is on similar lines.
Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan and psychologist Eldar Shafir published a book in 2013 titled “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much” and in it they make the profound point that:
“Scarcity is not just a physical constraint. It is also a mindset. When scarcity captures our attention, it changes how we think—whether it is at the level of milliseconds, hours, or days and weeks. By staying top of mind, it affects what we notice, how we weigh our choices, how we deliberate, and ultimately what we decide and how we behave. When we function under scarcity, we represent, manage, and deal with problems differently.”
That manifests itself in different ways in different situations. A few years ago I had heard Hollywood producer and the host of the Men In Blazers podcast, Michael Davies reflect on turning 50, when his co host Roger Bennet asked him about his birthday and how his summer was. Davies had said it now feels a little different because the realisation is hitting him that he has a finite number of summers left and it’s changing his decision making. We are at the same cusp with Dhoni, his scarcity is both a signal and an amplification of perhaps our own sense of it. It creates a sense of urgency and sometimes has the effect of making us focus on the now.
Maybe that’s what the MSD spike is about. As the popular song goes – enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
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